PM is first western leader to visit Burma since Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won election victoryDavid Cameron has prepared the ground for his historic visit to Burma by praising President Thein Sein for his "courage" in introducing political reforms.
In the main speech of his five-day Asian trip, at Al Azhar university in
Jakarta, the prime minister also hailed the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as "inspirational".
On Friday, the prime minister will become the first western leader to visit
Burma since the recent landslide victory in the parliamentary byelections
by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
Cameron will visit the president in the Burmese capital of Naypyidaw. He will also visit Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon.
Downing Street has carefully balanced the trip to show support for Aung San Suu Kyi's 24-year struggle for democracy, which began when she abandoned her life in Oxford after the military regime's violent crackdown on protesters in 1988.
But No 10 also wants to send a warm signal to the president, who allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to contest the parliamentary byelections in the face of opposition from conservatives within the regime. They were said to be "shocked" at her party's victory.
In his speech in Jakarta on Thursday morning, the prime minister highlighted the approach he will take in Burma. He said: "Where reform is beginning, like in Burma, we must get behind it. So let's pay tribute to those who have for decades and at huge personal cost to themselves fought for that freedom and reform. Not least, of course, the inspirational Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Let's pay tribute also to the leadership of President Thein Sein and his
government, which has been prepared to release political prisoners, hold
byelections and legalise political parties that had previously been
"And let's show that when they have the courage to reform we have the courage to respond."
The prime minister's use of the word courage to describe the leader of
Burma's military regime may raise eyebrows. Gordon Brown devoted a chapter of his book on courage to pay tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi's long fight against the dictatorship.
Cameron's visit to Burma will be the highlight of his five-day trip to Asia.
Downing Street has already had to iron out one difficulty of the Burma leg:
a few members of the prime minister's trade delegation, who have accompanied him all week, are tagging along.
They are being described by No 10 sources as "tourists" and will enjoy a cultural programme because their presence runs against the spirit, if not the letter, of EU sanctions against Burma.
Britain is expected to press for these sanctions to be lifted at an EU meeting in Brussels later this month.
The prime minister said he would use his visit to Burma to assess the speed with which sanctions should be lifted. In an interview with BBC Five Live, conducted during a flight from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Cameron said he would meet Thein Sein to "thank him for the work that he has done" to introduce political reforms.
The prime minister added: "If Burma moves towards democracy then we should respond in kind, and we should not be slow in doing that. But first I want to go and see for myself on the ground how things are going."
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